This post concerns a health topic personal to me that I feel strongly about. I also think it’s an issue that a lot of young women may not have a great understanding of, but with the rise of #strongisthenewskinny, it’s something of burgeoning importance.
Periods. Or lack thereof. Hypothalamic amenorrhea.
I will save my personal story and some of the science-y stuff for another post, and focus today on an individual who I consider to be an absolute wealth of knowledge on this topic: Kate Callaghan, a.k.a. The Holistic Nutritionist.
Kate is a qualified nutritionist, personal trainer and a lifestyle coach specialising in hormone healing and holistic nutritional therapy. A particular focus of Kate’s (and one personal to her also) is hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA). To borrow from one of Kate’s earlier blog posts, this (in general terms) “basically means your brain stops communicating to your lady garden, female hormone production slows and menstruation ceases.” The most likely causes of HA are over-exercising, under-eating/being underweight, over-stressing and artificial hormones (i.e. the Pill).
With the exception of the last one, these “causes”, while they sound negative, may actually present themselves in the package of a super-fit, health-conscious female with a penchant for multi-tasking. How many people do you know that fit this bill? I bet you can think of a few. And I bet there a some within that group who may not be experiencing a regular menstrual cycle.
Like me. With a history of disordered eating and addiction to exercise, a part of my personal journey toward achieving improved health (and becoming a wiser, more balanced nutritionist-in-the-making who is now in a better position to help others) has been to address HA. When I saw that Kate had released an e-book on HA, I had to read it and encourage as many people as I can to become aware of it too.
Kate’s e-book Healing Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is an all-inclusive guide to dealing with HA that provides you with Kate’s own personal experience, a short scientific background to HA, reflections/inspiration from other women, healing strategies AND recipes. It’s divided into easy-to-digest chapters peppered with stories from other women who have experienced HA, which is an aspect of the book I particularly love. With the current fitspo craze dominating social media accounts, it feels like everyone around is completing Kayla’s BBG, flashing their abs and guzzling low-carb green smoothies for breakfast every day (disclaimer: I do like a smoothie breakfast sometimes but I eat it in a bowl and it pretty much becomes solid food once I add my motherload of toppings – otherwise it’s not enough for me). It can be a great thing to improve your diet/fitness – but we’re all in different positions and what suits one person doesn’t necessarily suit another. For women experiencing HA it can be hard to identify with and find support from others – this e-book brings not only practical help, but comfort too.
Turning to the practical side of things, for anyone dealing with HA (or wanting to understand what strategies may work best in helping someone), Kate’s e-book is a thoughtful and comprehensive resource that addresses both the physical side of healing (i.e. eating and exercise) and the emotional side (i.e. the negative self-talk and body image issues that can thwart the physical aspects of healing HA). The e-book guides you gently through implementing lifestyle changes while simultaneously maintaining your self-esteem. Why is this so hard in cases of HA? Well, for many sufferers, healing involves giving up beloved exercise and lots of stressful multi-tasking and eating more carbs. More carbs, less movement? Loss of muscle tone that has been hard won at the gym? Gaining fat? Though a “first world problem”, it is a tough mental battle for most women with HA, I would think.
1. How long did it take you from discovering you had hypothalamic amenorrhea to getting your fertility back on track?
Great question! I knew for about 2 years what I had to do before I actually did it. I stuck my head in the sand and thought I could just throw herbs and other therapies at it without changing what I was actually doing myself and addressing the root cause (insufficient energy for my body to function, and too much physiological stress). Needless to say it didn’t work.
Once I really started tackling everything head on and implementing changes, it took 6-7 months for my period to come back, then another 4 months to start ovulating, then about another 4 months to fall pregnant!
Everyone is different, though. Some of my clients get their periods back after 1 month of changing things around!
2. Personally, what habits did you find the hardest to change? What did you find helpful in overcoming these challenges?
The hardest aspect was pulling back on the exercise and being OK with putting on a little body fat (I used to have 8-pack abs and only 13% body fat). I had been a group fitness instructor for many years, so my body was constantly “in the spotlight”, so to speak. I would always have people coming up telling me I had the “ideal body”. I guess I defined myself around my body, so I thought if this changed, then so would I. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but sometimes the female brain can be a little crazy!
Embracing vinyasa and yin yoga really helped me to overcome these challenges. Not only did it give me something physical to do that was going to support fertility and hormonal balance, but it also helped me to get out of my head and appreciate my body for its ability, as opposed to its aesthetics.
3. Do you have any particular positive mantra/inspirational quote that helped you through recovery? (Or that you just love now!)
Yes! My favourite affirmation that I would repeat to myself many times a day was “I am strong, healthy and fertile”. I love anything by Louise Hay and Gabrielle Bernstein – they are incredibly inspirational women!
4. What does being a holistic nutritionist mean to you?
Being a holistic nutritionist means looking at all aspects of an individual’s life, not just food/diet. It involves taking into account mental, emotional, spiritual and physical factors and identifying how these can impact on ones health and happiness. It also involves looking at the body as whole, and realizing that every organ system has an impact on other organ systems, and we cannot simply treat things in isolation.
A huge thank you to Kate for the interview; on a personal level I was delighted to be able to ask her some extra questions and I hope all of you reading this have found it useful too.
Where to now?
Connect with Kate:
p.s. Bonus Recipe
If you have stayed on to the end of this giant blog post, congrats! I hope you’ve learned something. Now go and feed yourself with this super delicious, super easy recipe for Raw Sesame Fudge from the Healing Hypothalamic Amernorrhea e-book (as pictured above) which Kate has kindly agreed to let me share on here with you. I whipped up a few batches and added some cacao nibs for a little extra crunch. Click here to go to the recipe!